Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My failed quest for immortality

My Failed Quest for Immortality
Gyan C. A. Fernando
Illustrated by N. Senthilkumaran

medical immortality

I suppose I was young and full of dreams at that time, not that much has changed in the dreams department since, but I am no longer young.
One of my ambitions in my early days in Medical School was to have an organ or a disease named after me, you know the sort of eponymous diseases and organs like the Hand-Schuller-Christian thingy and the Bartholin’s gland.
I did fail Anatomy at the 2nd MB examination but this was not a setback; rather a bonus in that it gave me a lot more time to rummage around the human body.
In later life, as a Pathologist, I hoped that I might stumble upon a hitherto undiscovered nasty condition that I could give my name to. 
At the very outset I decided that Fernando was a very common name indeed. It did not have a ring to it like Friedreich (of ataxia fame) or Langerhans (the islets guy) or Lieberkuhn (crypts of) and there were too many Fernandos in our year anyway. So if ever my name was to be up there in lights it would have to be as Gyan Fernando’s ligament or disease or syndrome or whatever.

My syndrome
Thus prepared, I was now ready to make my mark on the world of Medicine.
My main problem was that all the organs, ligaments, canals, bundles and cells had already been named (mostly by Professors who don’t do any real work anyway) and all the nasty diseases were out there too far away in the so-called Darkest Africa. 
As far as organs go, most had been discovered and named eponymously many centuries ago, leaving nothing for budding anatomists like me. 
As for the Department of Canals, Aqueducts and Foramina, the likes of Schlemm, Monro, Sylvius and Magendie beat me to it and have a monopoly on it.

 Some things are so obvious that the reason why they were named eponymously is beyond me.
Any idiot examining a brain would not fail to notice the arterial arcade underneath but Thos Willis muscled in and named it the Circle of Willis! The same applies to the Fallopian tubes, Wormian bones and the Pouch of Douglas. 
The latter, James Douglas, who obviously was only interested in the parts of the female anatomy south of the Equator, discovered a space! 
Can you believe that? He discovered a space! Just a space! A nothing!
He just put his hand in there one day and said “Ahhh! I have discovered a space! I will call it after myself!”
“Yes Sir! Yes Sir! Three bags full Sir” sang his acolytes in unison.
At least good old Caspar Bartholin, who like Jamie Douglas was exploring the female nether regions, must have taken a good while to discover his glands. At about the same time Alexander Skene was exploring the same territory and hit on the Skene’s glands which happen to be the next group of glands in that region. I hope they both had fun.
Talking about fun, I do envy Ernst Gräfenberg who arrived in this region fairly recently but he must have had some fun discovering the G-spot. 

My all-time hero however, is Emil Zuckerkandl of the Organ of Zuckerkandl fame.
He gave his name to the smallest, the most useless and the most obscure organ in the human body. 
Being an Austrian, he was meticulous in his work and methods and shut himself off for approx. six months at a time in his lab. When he finally discovered his organ he first poured himself a large glass of Schnapps, emerged out of his lair and then called out to his wife Bertha. 
It was at this point that he discovered that Bertha, Mrs Zuckerkandl, had left him three months before taking the little Zuckerkandls with her!

In my search for immortality, I soon discovered that naming diseases was a cut-throat business. 

 Plummer-Vinson Patterson-Kelly
Take for instance the Plummer-Vinson Patterson-Kelly controversy. When Plummy & Vins laid claim to this condition Patt & Kelly were up in arms. “Oi! We described it first!” they shouted across the bar but Plummer & Vins shouted back “Go boil your heads!”
The medical establishment had to step in when the bar fight spilled on to the pavement.
I am sure you all know about the time that Dorothy Reed nearly blinded Carl Sternberg by poking him in the eye. No? Well, what happened was that Carl discovered a cell which sort of makes a guest appearance in Hodgkin’s disease. He called it after himself, naturally.  At this point Dorothy (nee Reed) Mendenhall storms in and pokes Carl in the left eye. Eventually, a compromise was reached and the cells were named Reed-Sternberg cells.  Poor old Carl never recovered from this and died prematurely.
This brings me to Thos Hodgkin a selfish boy if ever there was one. He has a disease and a non-disease named after him! Talk about hogging the spotlight!

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Karl Albert Ludwig Aschof (German) and Carl Freiherr von Rokitansky (Bohemian), although associated eponymously in Aschof Rokitansky sinuses (of the gallbladder) were not good friends either.
A classic Spaghetti Western-Pulp Fiction type confrontation that occurred in the field of eponymous diseases was the Mexican Standoff between Alfred Hand, Artur Schüller, and Henry Asbury Christian of the unholy trinity of Hand-Schuller-Christian disease.
Alf Hand got the whole business totally wrong and thought that what he was seeing was a variant of Tuberculosis. Art Schuller got it partly right but it was good old Henry Christian who got the final piece of the jigsaw in.
Not surprisingly Christian wanted it named after him. The other two had similar views of their own importance. The whole business fermented dangerously for months before Hand tried to get the upper hand.
Reportedly, Hand got his hands around Christian’s throat at one stage but Schuller intervened by kicking Hand just below the inguinal region but not before Christian bit off the tip of the left little finger of Hand’s hand.Hand Schuller Christian

Incidentally, Hand-Schuller-Christian disease is the sort of useless information that Medical Students gather. 
You never see it in real life.
Which brings me to Gyan Fernando’s Disease which is much more common? No? You haven’t heard of it? Never?
Well, you might have to wait until our next get-together to find out!

Copyright: Gyan C A Fernando 2012
First published in a Sri Lankan medical comic

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